179. A New Age of Terror: New Mass Casualty Terrorism Threats

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by returning guest blogger Zachary Kallenborn, continuing his New Age of Terror series.  The democratization of unmanned air, ground, sea, and subsea systems and the proliferation of cyber-physical systems (e.g., automated plants) provide lesser states, non-state actors, and super-empowered individuals with new capabilities to conduct long-range precision fires and generate global non-kinetic effects resulting in mass casualty events. The potential weaponization of these otherwise benign capabilities pose new vulnerabilities to those who fail to remain vigilant and imagine the unthinkable — beware!]

A loud buzz pierced the quiet night air. A group of drones descended on a chemical plant near New York City. The drones disperse throughout the installation in search of storage tanks. A few minutes later, the buzz of the drone propellers was drowned out by loud explosions. A surge of fire leapt to the sky. A plume of gas followed, floating towards the nearby city. The gas killed thousands and thousands more were hospitalized with severe injuries.

The rapid proliferation of unmanned systems and cyber-physical systems offer terrorists new, easier means of carrying out mass casualty attacks. Drones allow terrorists to reduce their operational risk and acquire relatively low cost platforms. Cyber attacks require few resources and could cause significant harm, though a lack of expertise limits terrorist ability to inflict harm. Terrorists may prefer these methods to difficult-to-acquire and risky chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons.

Drones

Drones offer terrorists low cost methods of delivering harm with lower risk to attacker lives. Drone attacks can be launched from afar, in a hidden position, close to an escape route. Simple unmanned systems can be acquired easily: Amazon.com offers seemingly hundreds of drones for as low as $25. Of course, low cost drones also mean lower payloads that limit the harm caused, often significantly. Improvements to drone autonomy will allow terrorists to deploy more drones at once, including in true drone swarms.1 Terrorists can mount drone attacks across air, land, and sea.

Aerial drones allow attackers to evade ground-based defenses and could be highly effective in striking airports, chemical facilities, and other critical infrastructure. Houthi rebels in Yemen have repeatedly launched drone strikes on Saudi oil pipelines and refineries.2  Recent drone attacks eliminated half of Saudi oil production capacity.3  Attacks on chemical facilities are likely to be particularly effective. A chemical release would not require large amounts of explosives and could cause massive harm, as in the Bhopal gas accident that killed thousands. Current Department of Homeland Security Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards do not require any meaningful defenses against aerial attack.4  Alternatively, even small drones can cause major damage to airplane wings or engines, potentially risking bringing a plane down.5  In December 2018, that risk alone was enough to ground hundreds of flights at Gatwick airport south of London when drones were spotted close to the runway.

Self-driving cars also provide a means of mass casualty attack. Waymo, Uber, and several other companies seek to launch a self-driving taxi service, open to the public. Terrorists could request multiple taxis, load them with explosives or remotely operated weapons, and send them out to multiple targets. Alternatively, terrorists could launch multi-stage attacks on the same target: a first strike causes first responders to mass and subsequent attacks hit the responders. In fact, ISIS has reportedly considered this option.6

For a few hundred dollars, anyone can rent a semi-autonomous surface vessel that can carry up to 35lbs.7  No license or registration is necessary.8  Although a surface attack limits terrorists to maritime targets, potential still exists for significant harm. Terrorists can strike popular tourist sites like the Statue of Liberty or San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. U.S. military vessels are ideal targets too, such as the USS Cole bombing in October 2000.9  But drones are not the only new method of attack.

Cyber-physical systems

Like drones, cyber attacks are low cost and reduce operational risks. Cyber attacks can be launched from secure locations, even on the other side of the world. Terrorists also gain high levels of autonomy that will inhibit law enforcement responses.10  Although cyberterrorism requires significant technical know-how, terrorists require few resources other than a computer to carry out an attack.

Cyber attacks could target chemical facilities, airplanes, and other critical infrastructure targets. In 2000, Vitek Boden infiltrated computers controlling the sewage system of Maroochy Shire, Australia, and released hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the surrounding area.11  Boden could have caused even more harm if he wished.12  Although Boden’s attack primarily harmed the environment, other attacks could threaten human life. Cyber attacks could disable safety systems at chemical facilities, risking an accidental toxic gas release or explosions. A cyber assault on a Saudi petrochemical facility in August 2017 reportedly had that exact goal.13

However, cyber expertise and specific target knowledge is likely to be a significant inhibitor. Although attacks on critical infrastructure may require specialist knowledge of the control system and administrative operations, protective measures are not always implemented, leaving targets vulnerable.14  Boden was successful in large part because he worked closely with the sewage system’s control systems. Although terrorists have defaced websites and conducted denial of service attacks, known terrorist organizations do not currently possess the capabilities to mount a major destructive cyber attack.15  The availability of the necessary human capital is a strong factor in whether terrorists pursue cyber attacks.16  Nonetheless, the risk is likely to grow as terrorists develop greater cyber capabilities, increased connectivity creates new opportunities for attack, and the black market for cybercrime tools grows.17

The Future Operational Environment

Hot-zone team members from Hawaii’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosive, Enhanced-Response-Force-Package Team (CERFP) process simulated casualties through a decontamination zone during an exercise this spring. /  Source: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier

If terrorists have new avenues of mass casualty attack, U.S. forces must devote more resources to force protection and emergency response. U.S. forces may be called upon to aid local, state, and federal emergency responders in the event of a mass casualty attack. Likewise, U.S. troops may face risks themselves: cyber and drone attacks could certainly target U.S. military installations. Even attacks that do not kill can cause significant harm: disrupting airport operations as in the 2018 Gatwick drone incident may delay troop resupply, troop deployment, or close air support to Soldiers in the field. The U.S. military and the broader national security community must rethink its approach to mass casualty terrorism to respond to these threats. Terrorist groups have typically required CBRN weapons to cause mass harm. But if you can kill thousands in a drone attack, why bother with risky, difficult-to-acquire CBRN weapons?

For more information on this threat trend, see Non-State Actors and Their Uses of Emerging Technology, presented by Dr. Gary Ackerman, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, University of Maryland, at the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Autonomy Conference at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Atlanta, Georgia, 7-8 March 2017…

… as well as the following related Mad Scientist Laboratory posts:

– Zachary Kallenborn‘s previous post, A New Age of Terror: The Future of CBRN Terrorism.

– Marie Murphy‘s post, Trouble in Paradise: The Technological Upheaval of Modern Political and Economic Systems

The Democratization of Dual Use Technology

Autonomy Threat Trends

The Future of the Cyber Domain

Emergent Threat Posed by Super-Empowered Individuals

… and crank up Love and Terror by The Cinematics!

Zachary Kallenborn is a freelance researcher and analyst, specializing in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, CBRN terrorism, drone swarms, and emerging technologies writ large. His research has appeared in the Nonproliferation Review, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Defense One, the Modern War Institute at West Point, and other outlets. His most recent study, Swarming Destruction: Drone Swarms and CBRN Weapons, examines the threats and opportunities of drone swarms for the full scope of CBRN weapons.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).


1 Amy Hocraffer and Chang S. Nam, “A Meta-analysis of Human–System Interfaces in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Swarm Management,” Applied Ergonomics, Vol. 58 (2017), pp. 66–80, http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Chang_Nam5/publication/303782432_A_meta-analysis_of_human-system_interfaces_in_unmanned_aerial_vehicle_UAV_swarm_management/links/5767f71f08ae1658e2f8b435.pdf

2 Natasha Turak, “Oil Prices Jump as Saudi Energy Minister Reports Drone ‘Terrorism’ Against Pipeline Infrastructure,” CNBC, May 14, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/14/oil-jumps-as-saudi-energy-minister-reports-drone-terrorism-against-pipeline.html

3 John Defterios and Victoria Cavaliere, “Coordinated Strikes Knock Out Half of Saudi Oil Capacity, More Than 5 Million Barrels a Day,” CNN, September 15, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/14/business/saudi-oil-output-impacted-drone-attack/index.html

4 Department of Homeland Security, “Risk-Based Performance Standards Guidance: Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards,” May 2009, 15, 85.

5 Peter Dockrill, “Here’s What it Looks Like When a Drone Smashes into a Plane Wing at 238 MPH,” ScienceAlert, October 22, 2018, https://www.sciencealert.com/this-is-what-it-looks-like-drone-smashes-into-plane-s-wing-238-mph-mid-air-collision-aircraft-impact

6 Lia Eustachewich, “Terrorist Wannabes Plotted Self-Driving Car Bomb Attack: Authorities,” New York Post, September 4, 2018, https://nypost.com/2018/09/04/terrorist-wannabes-plotted-self-driving-car-bomb-attack-authorities/

7 AllTerra, “AllTerra Rental Rates,” May 3, 2019, https://allterracentral.com/pub/media/wysiwyg/AllTerra_Rental_Rates-5.3.19.pdf

8 Phone conversation with USV retailer.

9 CNN Library, “USS Cole Bombing Fast Facts,” CNN, March 27, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/18/world/meast/uss-cole-bombing-fast-facts/index.html

10 Steve S. Sin, Laura A. Blackerby, Elvis Asiamah, and Rhyner Washburn, “Determining Extremist Organisations’ Likelihood of Conducting Cyber Attacks,” 2016 8th International Conference on Cyber Conflict, May 31 to June 3, 2016, http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?reload=true&arnumber=7529428&tag=1

11 Marshall Abrams and Joe Weiss, “Malicious Control System Cyber Security Attack Case Study – Maroochy Water Services, Australia,” MITRE, July 23, 2008, https://www.mitre.org/sites/default/files/pdf/08_1145.pdf

12 Nabil Sayfayn and Stuart Madnick, “Cybersafety Analysis of the Maroochy Shire Sewage Spill (Preliminary Draft),” Cybersecurity Interdisciplinary Systems Laboratory, May 2017, http://web.mit.edu/smadnick/www/wp/2017-09.pdf

13 Nicole Perlroth and Clifford Krauss, “A Cyberattack in Saudi Arabia had a Deadly Goal. Experts Fear Another Try,” New York Times, March 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/15/technology/saudi-arabia-hacks-cyberattacks.html

14 Noguchi Mutsuo and Ueda Hirofumi, “An Analysis of the Actual Status of Recent Cyberattacks on Critical Infrastructure,” NEC Technical Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2, January 2018, https://www.nec.com/en/global/techrep/journal/g17/n02/pdf/170204.pdf

15 Tamara Evan, Eireann Leverett, Simon Ruffle, Andrew Coburn, James Bourdeau, Rohan Gunaratna, and Daniel Ralph, “Cyber Terrorism: Assessment of the Threat to Insurance,” Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies – Cyber Terrorism Insurance Futures 2017, November 2017, https://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/research/centres/risk/downloads/pool-re-cyber-terrorism.pdf

16 Steve S. Sin, et al, “Determining Extremist Organisations’ Likelihood of Conducting Cyber Attacks.”

17 Lillian Ablon, Martin C. Libicki, and Andrea A. Golay, “Markets for Cybercrime Tools and Stolen Data: Hacker’s Bazaar,” RAND, 2014, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR600/RR610/RAND_RR610.pdf

174. A New Age of Terror: The Future of CBRN Terrorism

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by guest blogger Zachary Kallenborn.  In the first of a series of posts, Mr. Kallenborn addresses how the convergence of emerging technologies is eroding barriers to terrorist organizations acquiring the requisite equipment, materiel, and expertise to develop and deliver chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents in an attack.  Learn about the challenges that (thankfully) remain and the ramifications for the operational environment.  (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

Unidentified drones spotted over the Thayer Monument at West Point.

On the evening of July 15, 2034, 264 West Point cadets reported to the hospital with a severe, but unknown illness. West Point Military Police (MP) investigated the incident and discovered video footage of two men launching several autonomous drones from a pickup truck near the base, then driving off. A suspicious fire the same night at a local apartment complex revealed remnants of 3D printers and synthetic biology kits. The investigation remains ongoing…

 

Such a scenario is fantasy, but increasingly plausible.

Various emerging technologies reduce the barriers to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism — bioterrorism in particular. The convergence of these technologies used may allow terrorists to acquire CBRN weapons with minimal identifiable signatures. Although these technologies exist today, their sophistication, availability, and terrorist interest in their use is likely to grow over the coming decades. For example, the first powered model airplane was flown in 1937; however, terrorists did not attempt to use drones until 1994.1  Thankfully, major challenges will still inhibit truly catastrophic CBRN terror.

Acquisition

Kasumigaseki Station, one of the many stations affected during the Tokyo subway sarin attack by Aum Shinrikyo / Source:  Wikimedia Commons

CBRN weapon acquisition is a difficult task for terrorist organizations. Terrorists must acquire significant specialized equipment, materiel, expertise, and the organizational capabilities to support the acquisition of such weapons and a physical location to assemble them. Even supposed successes like Aum Shinrikyo’s attack on the Tokyo subway were not nearly as impactful as they could have been. Aum’s biological weapons program was also a notable failure. In one instance, a member of the cult fell into a vat of clostridium botulinum (the bacteria that produces the botulinum toxin) and emerged unharmed.2  As a result, only 1-2% of terrorist organizations pursue or use CBRN weapons.3  But these barriers are eroding.

3D printing may ease the acquisition of some equipment and materiel. 3D printers can be used to create equipment components at reduced cost and have been used to create bioreactors, microscopes, and others key elements.4  Bioprinters can also create tissue samples to test weapons agents.5  The digital build-files for 3D printed items can also be sent and received online, perhaps from black market sellers or individuals sympathetic to the terrorist’s ideology.6

Synthetic biology offers improved access to biological weapons agents, especially to otherwise highly controlled agents. Synthetic biology can be used to create new or modify existing organisms.7 According to the World Health Organization, synthetic biology techniques could plausibly allow recreation of the variola virus (smallpox).8  That is especially significant because the virus only exists in two highly secure laboratories.9

Delivery

Delivery of a CBRN agent can also be a challenge. CBRN agents useful for mass casualty attacks rely on the air to carry the agent to an adversary (nuclear weapons are an obvious exception, but the likelihood of a terrorist organization acquiring a nuclear weapon is extremely low). Poor wind conditions, physical barriers, rain, and other environmental conditions can inhibit delivery. Biological weapons also require spray systems that can create droplets of an appropriate size, so that the agent is light enough to float in the air, but heavy enough to enter the lungs (approximately 1-10 microns).

Drones also make CBRN agent delivery easier. Drones offer terrorists access to the air. Terrorists can use them to fly over physical barriers, such as fencing or walls to carry out an attack. Drones also give terrorists more control over where they launch an attack: they can choose a well-defended position or one proximate to an escape route. Although small drone payload sizes limit the amount of agent that can be delivered, terrorists can acquire multiple drones.

Advances in drone autonomy allow terrorists to control more drones at once.10  Autonomy also allows terrorists to launch more complex attacks, perhaps directing autonomous drones to multiple targets or follow a path through multiple, well-populated areas. Greater autonomy also reduces the risks to the terrorists, because they can flee more readily from the area.

3D printing can also help with CBRN agent delivery. Spray-tanks and nozzles subject to export controls can be 3D printed.11  3D printers can also be used to make drones.12  3D printers also provide customizability to adapt these systems for CBRN agent delivery.

Remaining Challenges

CBRN weapons acquisition also requires significant technical expertise. Terrorist organizations must correctly perform complex scientific procedures, know which procedures to use, know which equipment and materials are needed, and operate the equipment. They must do all of that without harming themselves or others (harming innocents may not seem like a concern for an organization intent on mass harm; however, it would risk exposure of the larger plot.) Much of this knowledge is tacit, meaning that it is based on experience and cannot be easily transferred to other individuals.

Emerging technologies do not drastically reduce this barrier, though experts disagree. For example, genome-synthesis requires significant tacit knowledge that terrorists cannot easily acquire without relevant experience.13  Likewise, 3D printers are unlikely to spit out a completely assembled piece of equipment. Rather, 3D printers may provide parts that need to be assembled into a final result. However, some experts argue that as technologies become more ubiquitous, they will be commercialized and made easier to use.14  While this technology is likely to become more accessible, physical limitations will place an upper bound on how accessible it can become.

The Future Operational Environment

If CBRN terrorism is becoming easier, U.S. forces can be expected to be at greater risk of CBRN attack and face more frequent attacks. An attack with infectious biological weapons from afar would not likely be discovered until well after the attack took place. Although still quite unlikely, a major biological attack could cause massive harm. Timed correctly, a CBRN terror attack could delay deployment of troops to a combat zone, inhibit launch of close-air support assets, or harm morale by delaying delivery of delicious pizza MREs.15  Off the battlefield, troops may have less access to protective gear and be at greater risk of harm. Even a poorly made agent can harm military operations: quarantines must still be established and operations limited until the risk is neutralized or at least determined to be non-harmful.

However, counter-intuitively, terrorist demand for CBRN weapons may actually decrease, because emerging technologies also offer easier pathways to mass casualties. These risks will be explored in the next article in this series.

If you enjoyed this post, please read:

The Democratization of Dual Use Technology

Dead Deer, and Mad Cows, and Humans (?) … Oh My! by proclaimed Mad Scientists LtCol Jennifer Snow and Dr. James Giordano, and returning guest blogger Joseph DeFranco

– Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference blog post and Final Report

Emergent Threat Posed by Super-Empowered Individuals

Zachary Kallenborn is a freelance researcher and analyst, specializing in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, CBRN terrorism, drone swarms, and emerging technologies writ large. His research has appeared in the Nonproliferation Review, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Defense One, the Modern War Institute at West Point, and other outlets. His most recent study, Swarming Destruction: Drone Swarms and CBRN Weapons, examines the threats and opportunities of drone swarms for the full scope of CBRN weapons.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).


1 Walter A. Good, “The AMA History Project Presents Autobiography of Dr. Walter (Walt) A. Good,” Academy of Model Aeronautics, August 2009, https://www.modelaircraft.org/sites/default/files/files/GoodDrWalterAWalt.pdf; Robert J. Bunker, “Terrorist and Insurgent Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Use, Potentials, and Military Implications,” United States Army War College Press, August 2015.

2 Richard Danzig et al., Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons, 2nd ed. (December 2012), https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS_AumShinrikyo_SecondEdition_English.pdf (accessed 6 June 2017).

3 Gary Ackerman, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, R. Karl Rethemeyer, and Victor Asal, “Terrorist Groups and Weapons of Mass Destruction,” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, (START), https://www.start.umd.edu/research-projects/terrorist-groups-and-weapons-mass-destruction

4 Clare Scott, “Experiment Tests the Suitability of 3D Printing Materials for Creating Lab Equipment,” 3DPrint.com, August 3, 2018, https://3dprint.com/221403/3d-printing-materials-lab/

5 Kolja Brockmann, “Advances in 3D Printing Technology: Increasing Biological Weapons Proliferation Risks?” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), July 29, 2019, https://www.sipri.org/commentary/blog/2019/advances-3d-printing-technology-increasing-biological-weapon-proliferation-risks

Franklin Houser, “3D Printed Drone Parts – All You Need to Know in 2019,” All3DP, February 12, 2019, https://all3dp.com/3d-print-drone-parts/

6 Natasha Bajema, “3D Printing: Enabler of Mass Destruction,” Medium, October 20, 2018, https://medium.com/@natashabajema/3d-printing-enabler-of-mass-destruction-74d2a684a13

7 Committee on Strategies for Identifying and Addressing Potential Biodefense Vulnerabilities Posed by Synthetic Biology, “Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology,” (Washington DC: The National Academies Press, 2018), 9.

8 “The Independent Advisory Group on Public Health Implications of Synthetic Biology Technology Related to Smallpox,” World Health Organization, June 29-30, 2015, available at https://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/smallpox/synthetic-biology-technology-smallpox/en/

9 Smallpox,” National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, available at www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/smallpox

10 Amy Hocraffer and Chang S. Nam, “A Meta-analysis of Human–System Interfaces in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Swarm Management,” Applied Ergonomics, Vol. 58 (2017), pp. 66–80, http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Chang_Nam5/publication/303782432_A_meta-analysis_of_human-system_interfaces_in_unmanned_aerial_vehicle_UAV_swarm_management/links/5767f71f08ae1658e2f8b435.pdf

11 Kolja Brockmann, “Advances in 3D Printing Technology: Increasing Biological Weapons Proliferation Risks?” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), July 29, 2019, https://www.sipri.org/commentary/blog/2019/advances-3d-printing-technology-increasing-biological-weapon-proliferation-risks

12 Franklin Houser, “3D Printed Drone Parts – All You Need to Know in 2019,” All3DP, February 12, 2019, https://all3dp.com/3d-print-drone-parts/

13 Kathleen M. Vogel, “Framing Biosecurity: An Alternative to the Biotech Revolution Model?,” Science and Public Policy, Vol. 35 No. 1, 2008.

14 Jonathan B. Tucker, “Could Terrorists Exploit Synthetic Biology?” The New Atlantis, Spring 2011, https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/could-terrorists-exploit-synthetic-biology#_ftn8

15 Steve1989MREInfo, “2018 MRE Pepperoni Pizza MRE Review Meal Ready to Eat Ration Taste Testing,” YouTube, July 28, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_sY-nJ179U

138. “The Monolith”

The Monolith set from the dawn of man sequence, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1968) / Source: Wikimedia Commons

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to introduce a new, quarterly feature, entitled “The Monolith.” Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick fans alike will recognize and appreciate our allusion to the alien artifact responsible for “uplifting” mankind from primitive, defenseless hominids into tool using killers — destined for the stars — from their respective short story, “The Sentinel,” and movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” We hope that you will similarly benefit from this post (although perhaps in not quite so evolutionary a manner!), reflecting the Mad Scientist Teams’ collective book and movie recommendations — Enjoy!]

Originally published by PublicAffairs on 5 October 2017

The Future of War by Sir Lawrence Freedman. The evolution of warfare has taken some turns that were quite unexpected and were heavily influenced by disruptive technologies of the day. Sir Lawrence examines the changing character of warfare over the last several centuries, how it has been influenced by society and technology, the ways in which science fiction got it wrong and right, and how it might take shape in the future. This overarching look at warfare causes one to pause and consider whether we may be asking the right questions about future warfare.

 

Royal Scots Guardsmen engaging the enemy with a Lewis Machine Gun / Source:  Flickr

They Shall Not Grow Old directed by Sir Peter Jackson. This lauded 2018 documentary utilizes original film footage from World War I (much of it unseen for the past century) that has been digitized, colorized, upscaled, and overlaid with audio recordings from British servicemen who fought in the war. The divide between civilians untouched by the war and service members, the destructive impact of new disruptive technologies, and the change they wrought on the character of war resonate to this day and provide an excellent historical analogy from which to explore future warfare.

Gene Simmons plays a nefarious super empowered individual in Runaway

Runaway directed by Michael Crichton. This film, released in 1984, is set in the near future, where a police officer (Tom Selleck) and his partner (Cynthia Rhodes) specialize in neutralizing malfunctioning robots. A rogue killer robot – programmed to kill by the bad guy (Gene Simmons) – goes on homicidal rampage. Alas, the savvy officers begin to uncover a wider, nefarious plan to proliferate killer robots. This offbeat Sci-Fi thriller illustrates how dual-use technologies in the hands of super-empowered individuals could be employed innovatively in the Future Operational Environment. Personalized warfare is also featured, as a software developer’s family is targeted by the ‘bad guy,’ using a corrupted version of the very software he helped create. This movie illustrates the potential for everyday commercial products to be adapted maliciously by adversaries, who, unconstrained ethically, can out-innovate us with convergent, game changing technologies (robotics, CRISPR, etc.).

Originally published by Macmillan on 1 May 2018

The Military Science of Star Wars by George Beahm. Storytelling is a powerful tool used to visualize the future, and Science Fiction often offers the best trove of ideas. The Military Science of Star Wars by George Beahm dissects and analyzes the entirety of the Star Wars Universe to mine for information that reflects the real world and the future of armed conflict. Beahm tackles the personnel, weapons, technology, tactics, strategy, resources, and lessons learned from key battles and authoritatively links them to past, current, and future Army challenges. Beahm proves that storytelling, and even fantasy (Star Wars is more a fantasy story than a Science Fiction story), can teach us about the real world and help evolve our thinking to confront problems in new and novel ways. He connects the story to the past, present, and future Army and asks important questions, like “What makes Han Solo a great military Leader?”, “How can a military use robots (Droids) effectively?”, and most importantly, “What, in the universe, qualified Jar Jar Binks to be promoted to Bombad General?”.

Ex Machina, Universal Pictures (2014) / Source: Vimeo

Ex Machina directed by Alex Garland. This film, released in 2014, moves beyond the traditional questions surrounding the feasibility of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Turing test to explore the darker side of synthetic beings, knowing that it is achievable and that the test can be passed. The film is a cautionary tale of what might be possible at the extreme edge of AI computing and innovation where control may be fleeting or even an illusion. The Army may never face the same consequences that the characters in the film face, but it can learn from their lessons. AI is a hotly debated topic with some saying it will bring about the end of days, and others saying generalized AI will never exist. With a future this muddy, one must be cautious of exploring new and undefined technology spaces that carry so much risk. As more robotic entities are operationalized, and AI further permeates the battlefield, future Soldiers and Leaders would do well to stay abreast of the potential for volatility in an already chaotic environment. If Military AI progresses substantially, what will happen when we try to turn it off?

Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon / Source: NASA

Apollo 11 directed by Todd Douglas Miller. As the United States prepares to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first manned mission to the lunar surface later this summer, this inspiring documentary reminds audiences of just how audacious an achievement this was. Using restored archival audio recordings and video footage (complemented by simple line animations illustrating each of the spacecrafts’ maneuver sequences), Todd Miller skillfully re-captures the momentousness of this historic event, successfully weaving together a comprehensive point-of-view of the mission. Watching NASA and its legion of aerospace contractors realize the dream envisioned by President Kennedy eight years before serves to remind contemporary America that we once dared and dreamed big, and that we can do so again, harnessing the energy of insightful and focused leadership with the innovation of private enterprise. This uniquely American attribute may well tip the balance in our favor, given current competition and potential future conflicts with our near-peer adversaries in the Future Operational Environment.

Originally published by Penguin Random House on 3 July 2018

Artemis by Andy Weir. In his latest novel, following on the heels of his wildly successful The Martian, Andy Weir envisions an established lunar city in 2080 through the eyes of Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, one of its citizen-hustlers, who becomes enmeshed in a conspiracy to control the tremendous wealth generated from the space and lunar mineral resources refined in the Moon’s low-G environment. His suspenseful plot, replete with descriptions of the science and technologies necessary to survive (and thrive!) in the hostile lunar environment, posits a late 21st century rush to exploit space commodities. The resultant economic boom has empowered non-state actors as new competitors on the global — er, extraterrestrial stage — from the Kenya Space Corporation (blessed by its equatorial location and reduced earth to orbit launch costs) to the Sanchez Aluminum mining and refining conglomerate, controlled by a Brazilian crime syndicate scheming to take control of the lunar city. Readers are reminded that the economic hegemony currently enjoyed by the U.S., China, and the E.U. may well be eclipsed by visionary non-state actors who dare and dream big enough to exploit the wealth that lies beyond the Earth’s gravity well.

134. On Hype and Hyperwar

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by Collin Meisel and returning guest blogger Dr. Jonathan D. Moyer, both of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. Eschewing another discussion of disruptive emergent technologies, Mr. Meisel and Dr. Moyer instead focus on persistent global trends that, while perhaps not as sexy as artificial intelligence or quantum computing, are just as relevant to warfighters preparing for competition and conflict with potential adversaries in the Future Operational Environment!]

Too often, discussion of the Future Operational Environment (FOE) is filled with science fiction-inspired speculation of a world driven by the likes of quantum artificial intelligence (AI) and “self-constructing robotic ‘cyburgs’”. While these and similar potential technological developments are entertaining—and even useful to ponder—we should not let them distract us from less sensational but also consequential trends that are sure to transform the FOE in the coming decades, such as persistent demographic and economic shifts among great powers and the developing world. In other words, let’s take the “hype” out of hyperwar (i.e., a possible future where AI calls the shots on the battlefield).

For example, as a common feature of proposed hyperwar scenarios, quantum computing is often portrayed as both a force multiplier and boogeyman of the future despite its well-known fragility, stunted development, and potentially insurmountable limitations. Indeed, predictions of a soon-to-arrive quantum code-cracking menace are pure fiction. Similarly, despite predictions of the AI singularity—the hypothetical moment when AI surpasses human intelligence and subsequent advances presumably occur exponentially—AI, too, has its limitations.

Rather than speculating about what could become of these much-hyped technological developments, a more productive use of time is to consider, for example, the serious threat that more limited versions of quantum computing and AI might still pose in, say, the hands of a declining China. Even as it rises, China is up against long-term, persistent trends—such as a forthcoming shrinking population and the predicament of aging before it gets rich—that are sure to impact geopolitics in East Asia and beyond as the Chinese Communist Party, which in part justifies its one-party rule by continued prosperity, clings to power. Indeed, this is a foreseeable, understandable future—the opposite of hype and speculation.

As another increasingly important geopolitical player, India faces its own set of structural shifts in a direction much different from that of China. With relatively high birth rates and lower death rates compared to China, India’s  population will likely continue to rise—and, in part, drive economic growth—as its counterpart to the northeast begins to wither. While these forecasts are of one possible future, their consistency with trends over the last half-century suggests that policymakers in the United States and elsewhere should be preparing for such a world. And what of other persistent demographic trends? Although we cannot know for certain what Africa’s growth to nearly one-third of the world’s population by 2060 will mean in light of Europe’s simultaneous contraction, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that such a demographic shift is likely to happen given persistent global trends. Again, these are understandable futures; they are what is and has been happening, not hype.

Using the freely-available, open-source International Futures tool, we and our colleagues at the Pardee Center for International Futures are working with the Army Future Studies Group (AFSG) to think about long-term futures by examining these and other persistent trends in areas ranging from material power to natural systems. For example, AFSG fellows are asked to think about the planet’s water systems, impending water shortages across regions like Central and Western Asia and Northern Africa, and what they might mean for regional development and potential conflicts. While study of these less buzz-worthy trends may not tell the Army how it will be fighting wars of the future, it can at least help forecast trends that point to where and with whom.

Demographic transitions and shrinking aquifers may not have the same pizzazz as warfare at the speed of thought and other elements of the AI battlefield, but they possess equal potential to transform the FOE in fundamental ways. More importantly, these less sensational but persistent structural shifts can be considered in combination to develop plausible, understandable future scenarios—not science fiction fantasy. To be clear, hyperwar and its accompanying technologies still deserve attention, so long as those considering them do not get caught up in the hype. The goal of futures studies should be to strive towards a more understandable future—then we can worry about Elon Musk and the impending AI apocalypse.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please also see:

Building Capacity to Think about the Future, by Drs.  Jonathan D. Moyer and Christopher Rice and Mr. Alex Porter.

Long Term Trends and Some Implications of Decreasing Global Interdependence, by Dr. Moyer, presented at the Mad Scientist Strategic Security Environment in 2050 Conference at Georgetown University, 8-9 August 2016.

Extended Trends Impacting the Future Operational Environment, excerpted from the aforementioned Mad Scientist Conference’s final report.

Emergent Global Trends Impacting on the Future Operational Environment, reviewing three additional sources that help us to understand new trends and technologies affecting the FOE.

 Making the Future More Personal: The Oft-Forgotten Human Driver in Future’s Analysis, by Mr. Andrew Sullivan, addressing the paramount disruptor — people and ideas.

… and crank up R.E.M.‘s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)!

Collin Meisel is a Research Associate at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures and a former U.S. Air Force Security Forces member.

Dr. Jonathan D. Moyer is Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures.

131. Omega

[Editor’s Note:  Story Telling is a powerful tool that allows us to envision how innovative and potentially disruptive technologies could be employed and operationalized in the Future Operational Environment. In today’s guest blog post, proclaimed Mad Scientist Mr. August Cole and Mr. Amir Husain use story telling to effectively:

  • Describe what the future might look like if our adversaries out-innovate us using Artificial Intelligence and cheap robotics;
  • Address how the U.S. might miss a strategic breakthrough due to backward-looking analytical mindsets; and
  • Imagine an unconventional Allied response in Europe to an emboldened near-peer conflict.

Enjoy reading how the NATO Alliance could react to Omega — “a Russian autonomous joint force in a … ready-to-deploy box… [with an] area-denial bubble projected by their new S-600s extend[ing] all the way to the exo-sphere, … cover[ing] the entirety of the ground, sea and cyber domains” — on the cusp of a fictional not-so-distant future near-peer conflict!]

Omega

22 KILOMETERS NORTH OF KYIV / UKRAINE

“Incoming!” shouted Piotr Nowak, a master sergeant in Poland’s Jednostka Wojskowa Komandosów special operations unit. Dropping to the ground, he clawed aside a veil of brittle green moss to wedge himself into a gap beneath a downed tree. He hoped the five other members of his military advisory team, crouched around the fist-shaped rock formation behind him, heard his shouts. To further reinforce Ukraine’s armed forces against increasingly brazen Russian military support for separatists in the eastern part of the country, Poland’s government had been quietly supplying military trainers. A pro-Russian military coup in Belarus two weeks earlier only served to raise tensions in the region – and the stakes for the JWK on the ground.

An instant later incoming Russian Grad rocket artillery announced itself with a shrill shriek. Then a rapid succession of sharp explosive pops as the dozen rockets burst overhead. Nowak quickly realized these weren’t ordinary fires.

Russian 9a52-4 MLRS conducting a fire mission / Source: The National Interest

There was no spray of airburst shrapnel or the lung-busting concussion of a thermobaric munition. Instead, it sounded like summer fireworks – the explosive separation of the 122mm rocket artillery shell’s casing. Once split open, each weapon’s payload deployed an air brake to slow its approach.

During that momentary silence, Nowak edged out slightly from under the log to look up at the sky. He saw the drifting circular payload extend four arms and then, suddenly, it came to life as it sprang free of its parachute harness. With a whine from its electric motors, the quadcopter darted out of sight.

That sound built and built over the next minute as eleven more of these Russian autonomous drones darted menacingly in a loose formation through the forest above the Polish special operations commandos. Nowak cursed the low-profile nature of their mission: The Polish soldiers had not yet received the latest compact American counter-UAS electronic-warfare systems that could actually fit in their civilian Skoda Kodiaq SUVs.

Nowak held his airplane-mode mobile phone out from under the log to film the drones, using his arm like a selfie-stick. Nowak needed to report in what he was seeing – this was proof Russian forces had turned their new AI battle management system online inside Ukraine. But he also knew that doing so would be a death sentence, whether he texted the video on the country’s abominably slow mobile networks or used his secure NATO comms. These Russian drones could detect either type of transmission in an instant. Once the drones cued to his transmission he would be targeted either by their own onboard anti-personnel munitions or a follow-on strike by conventional artillery.

This was no mere variation on the practice of using Leer-3 drones  for electronic warfare and to spot for Russian artillery. It marked the first-ever deployment of an entirely new Russian AI battle system complex, Omega. Nowak had only heard about the Russians firing entire drone swarms from inexpensive Grad rocket-artillery rounds once before in Syria while deployed with a US task force. But they had never done so in Ukraine, at least not that he knew about.  Most observers chalked up Russia’s Syrian experimentations with battlefield robots and drone swarms to clumsy failures. Clearly something had changed.

With his phone, Nowak recorded how the drones appeared to be coordinating their search activities as if they were a single hive intelligence. They divided the dense forest into cells they searched cooperatively. Within seconds, they climbed and dove from treetop height looking for anyone or anything hiding below.

At that very instant, the drone’s computer vision algorithms detected Novak’s team. Each and every one of them. Within seconds, six of the aggressively maneuvering drones revealed themselves in a disjointed dive down from the treetops and zoomed in on the JWK fighters’ positions.

Nobody needed to be told what to do. The team raised their weapons and fired short bursts at the Russian drones. One shattered like a clay pigeon. But two more buzzed into view to take its place. Another drone went down to a shotgun-fired SkyNet round. Then the entire drone formation shifted its flight patterns, dodging and maneuvering even more erratically, making it nearly impossible to shoot the rest down. The machines learned from their own losses, Nowak realized. Would his superiors do the same for him?

Nowak emptied his magazine with a series of quick bursts, but rather than reload he put his weapon aside and rolled out from under the log. Fully exposed and clutching the phone with shaking hands, he hastily removed one of his gloves with his teeth. Then he switched the device on. Network connected. He scrolled to the video of the drones. Send! Send! Send!

Eleven seconds later, Novak’s entire Polish JWK special forces team lay dead on the forest floor.

Jednostka Wojskowa Komandosow (JWK) / Source: Wikimedia Commons

________________________________

Omega is not any one specific weapon, rather it is made up of a menagerie of Russian weapons, large and small. It’s as if you fused information warfare, SAMs, fires, drones, tactical autonomous bots… There’s everything from S-600 batteries to cheap Katyusha-style rocket artillery to Uran-9 and -13 tanks. But it is what controls the hardware that makes Omega truly unique: AI. At its core, it’s an artificial intelligence system fusing data from thousands of sensors, processed information, and found patterns that human eyes and minds cannot fathom. The system’s AI is not only developing a comprehensive real-time picture, it’s also developing probabilities and possible courses of enemy action. It can coordinate thousands of “shooters”, from surface-to-air missiles, to specialized rocket artillery deploying autonomous tactical drones like the ones that killed the JWK team, to UGVs like the latest Uran-13 autonomous tracked units.

The developers of the Omega system incorporated technologies such as software-defined radio, which uses universal receivers that could listen in to a broad array of frequencies. Thousands of these bands are monitored with machine learning algorithms to spot insurgent radio stations, spy on the locations of Ukrainian military and police, and even determine if a certain frequency is being used to remotely control explosives or other military equipment. When a threat is discovered, the system will dispatch drones to observe the triangulated location of the source. If the threat needs to be neutralized a variety of kinetic systems – from guided artillery shells to loitering munitions and autonomous drones – can be dispatched for the kill.

________________________________

If you enjoyed this excerpt, please:

Read the complete Omega short story, hosted by our colleagues at the Atlantic Council NATOSource blog,

Learn how the U.S. Joint Force and our partners are preparing to prevail in competition with our strategic adversaries and, when necessary, penetrate and dis-integrate their anti-access and area denial systems and exploit the resultant freedom of maneuver to achieve strategic objectives (win) and force a return to competition on favorable terms in The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 Executive Summary, and

See one prescription for precluding the strategic surprise that is the fictional Omega in The Importance of Integrative Science/Technology Intelligence (InS/TINT) to the Prediction of Future Vistas of Emerging Threats, by Dr. James Giordano,  CAPT (USN – Ret.) L. R. Bremseth, and Mr. Joseph DeFranco.

Reminder: You only have 1 week left to enter your submissions for the Mad Scientist Science Fiction Writing Contest 2019.  Click here for more information about the contest and how to submit your short story(ies) for consideration by our 1 April 2019 deadline!

Mr. August Cole is a proclaimed Mad Scientist, author, and futurist focusing on national security issues. He is a non-resident senior fellow at the Art of the Future Project at the Atlantic Council. He also works on creative foresight at SparkCognition, an artificial intelligence company, and is a senior advisor at Avascent, a consulting firm. His novel with fellow proclaimed Mad Scientist P.W. Singer, entitled Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, explores the future of great power conflict and disruptive technologies in wartime.

Mr. Amir Husain is the founder and CEO of SparkCognition, a company envisioned to be at the forefront of the “AI 3.0” revolution. He serves as advisor and board member to several major institutions, including IBM Watson, University of Texas Department of Computer Science, Makerarm, ClearCube Technology, uStudio and others; and his work has been published in leading tech journals, including Network World, IT Today, and Computer World. In 2015, Amir was named Austin’s Top Technology Entrepreneur of the Year.

Disclaimer: This publication is a work of fiction by Messrs. August Cole and Amir Husain, neither of whom have any affiliation with U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the U.S. Army, or the U.S. Government. This piece is meant to be thought-provoking and entertaining, and does not reflect the current position of the U.S. Army.

129. “The Queue”

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present our latest edition of “The Queue” – a monthly post listing the most compelling articles, books, podcasts, videos, and/or movies that the U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative has come across during the previous month. In this anthology, we address how each of these works either informs or challenges our understanding of the Future Operational Environment (OE). We hope that you will add “The Queue” to your essential reading, listening, or watching each month!]

Recently ML Cavanaugh asked and answered in a LA Times Op-Ed piece, “Can science fiction help us prepare for 21st Century Warfare?

The Mad Science team answers this question with an emphatic, “YES!

Below is a re-run of our review of Eliot Peper’s argument for business leaders to read more science fiction. His urban planning business case speaks for itself.

For the burgeoning authors among you, submit a story to our Science Fiction Writing Contest 2019 –- you only have two weeks left! — see contest details here.

1.Why Business Leaders Need to Read More Science Fiction,” by Eliot Peper, Harvard Business Review, 24 July 17.

New York City’s Fifth Avenue bustling with horse-drawn traffic on Easter Sunday, 1900 (see if you can spot the horseless carriage!) / Source: Commons Wikimedia

There are no facts about the future and the future is not a linear extrapolation from the present. We inherently understand this about the future, but Leaders oftentimes seek to quantify the unquantifiable. Eliot Peper opens his Harvard Business Review article with a story about one of the biggest urban problems in New York City at the end of the 19th century – it stank!

Horses were producing 45,000 tons of manure a month. The urban planners of 1898 convened a conference to address this issue, but the experts failed to find a solution. More importantly, they could not envision a future only a decade and a half hence, when cars would outnumber horses. The urban problem of the future was not horse manure, but motor vehicle-generated pollution and road infrastructure. All quantifiable data available to the 1898 urban planners only extrapolated to more humans, horses, and manure. It is likely that any expert sharing an assumption about cars over horses would have been laughed out of the conference hall. Flash forward a century and the number one observation from the 9/11 Commission was that the Leaders and experts responsible for preventing such an attack lacked imagination. Story telling and the science fiction genre allow Leaders to imagine beyond the numbers and broaden the assumptions needed to envision possible futures.

2. Challenges to Security in Space, Defense Intelligence Agency, January 2019.

Source: Evan Vucci / AP / REX / Shutterstock

On 19 Feb 19, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive-4 (SPD-4), establishing the Space Force as the nation’s newest military branch. This force will initially reside within the U.S. Air Force, much as the U.S.  Marine Corps resides within the U.S. Navy. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, as Deputy Secretary of Defense, must now provide the associated draft legislative proposal to the President via the Office of Management and Budget; then it will be submitted to Congress for approval – its specific “details… and how effectively Administration officials defend it on Capitol Hill will determine its fate.

Given what is sure to be a contentious and polarizing congressional debate, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Challenges to Security in Space provides a useful unclassified reference outlining our near-peer adversaries’ (China and Russia) space strategy, doctrine, and intent; key space and counterspace organizations; and space and counterspace capabilities. These latter capabilities are further broken out into: space launch capabilities; human spaceflight and space exploration; Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR); navigation and communications; and counterspace.

In addition to our near-peer’s space capabilities, Iranian and North Korean space challenges are also addressed. The paper explores these nations’ respective national space launch facilities as venues for testing ballistic missile technologies.

The paper concludes with an outlook assessment addressing the increasing number of spacefaring nations, with “some actors integrat[ing] space and counterspace capabilities into military operations,” and “trends… pos[ing] a challenge to U.S. space dominance and present[ing] new risks for assets on orbit.”

A number of useful appendices are also included, addressing the implications of debris and orbital collisions; counterspace threats illustrating the associated capabilities on a continuum from reversible (e.g., Electronic Warfare and Denial and Deception) to irreversible (e.g., Ground Site Attacks and Nuclear Detonation in Space); and a useful list defining space acronyms.

With the U.S. and our allies’ continued dependence on space domain operations in maintaining a robust deterrence, and failing that, winning on future battlefields, this DIA assessment is an important reference for warfighters and policy makers, alike.

3. Superconduction: Why does it have to be so cold?Vienna University of Technology via ScienceDaily, 20 February 2019.  (Reviewed by Marie Murphy)

One of the major barriers to quantum computing is a rather unexpected one: in order for superconduction to occur, it must be very cold. Superconduction is an electrical current that moves “entirely without resistance” and, as of now, with standard materials superconduction is only possible at -200oC. In quantum computing there are massive amounts of particles moving in interdependent trajectories, and precisely calculating all of them is impossible. Researchers at TU Wien (Technische Universität Wien – Vienna University of Technology) were able to add on to an existing equation that allows for the approximate calculation of these particles in solid matter, not just a vacuum. This new formula may make it easier to develop different superconducting materials and potentially identify materials that could conduct at room temperature.

Quantum computing is heralded as the next big step in the technological revolution and the key to unlocking unthinkable possibilities of human and technological advancement. If there was a way for quantum computing to work at closer to room temperature, then that could lead to a major breakthrough in the technology and the rapid application of quantum computing to the operational environment. There is also a massive first mover advantage in quantum computing technology: the organization that solves the problem first will have unlimited and uncontested use of the technology, and very few people in the world have the technological expertise to quickly replicate the discovery.

4.The Twenty-First Century General, with Dr. Anthony King,” hosted by John Amble, Modern War Institute Podcast, 7 March 2019.

Command: The Twenty-First Century General / Source: Cambridge University Press

In this prescient episode of the Modern War Institute podcast, John Amble interviews Dr. Anthony King (Chair of War Studies in the Politics and International Studies Department at Warwick University in the United Kingdom) about his new book Command: The Twenty-First Century General. Amble and Dr. King have a detailed and informative discussion about the future of command as the world has moved into a digital age and what it’s meant for the battlefield, warfighters, commanders, and even organizational staffs.

One of the more impactful ideas explored in this podcast, in relation to the future of warfare, was the idea of collective decision-making on the part of commanders, as opposed to previous “hero era” individualistic leadership typified by General Patton and Field Marshals Rommel and Montgomery. Command teams (divisional staff, for example) have swelled in size not simply to create meaningless career milestones but due to digital age revolutions that allowed for increasingly complex operations.

With artificial intelligence becoming increasingly pervasive throughout the future operational environment and likely ever-present on future command staffs, Dr. King points out that staffs may not become smaller but actually may increase as operations become even more complex. The changing character of future warfare (especially the emergence of AI) may enable incredible new capabilities in coordination, synchronization, and convergence of effects but adversaries using more simplistic command structures could expose this inherent complexity through speed and decisiveness.

5. Alexa, call the police! Smart assistants should come with a ‘moral AI’ to decide whether to report their owners for breaking the law, experts say,” by Peter Lloyd, Daily Mail.com, 22 February 2019.

Scientists at the University of Bergen in Norway discussed the idea of a “moral A.I.” for smart home assistants, like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod at the AAAI / ACM Conference for Artificial Intelligence, Ethics and Society in Hawaii.  Marija Slavkovik, associate professor at the department of information science and media studies “suggested that digital assistants should possess an ethical awareness that at once represents both the owner and the authorities — or, in the case of a minor, their parents.” Recall that previously, police have seized information gathered by smart devices.

Moral A.I. would require home assistants to “decide whether to report their owners for breaking the law,” or to remain silent. “This would let them weigh whether to report illegal activity to the police, effectively putting millions of people under constant surveillance.” Stakeholders “need to be identified and have a say, including when machines shouldn’t be able to listen in. Right now only the manufacturer decides.” At present, neither stakeholders nor consumers are in charge of their own information and companies use our personal information freely, without commensurate compensation.

If developed, brought to market, and installed (presumably willingly) in our homes (or public spaces), is Moral A.I. a human problem?

Yes. Broadly speaking, no place on earth is completely homogeneous; each country has a different culture, language, beliefs, norms, and society. Debating the nuances, the dystopian sounding and murky path of Moral A.I. involves the larger question on how should ethics be incorporated in AI.

Furthermore – should lethal autonomous weapons be used on humans? In his recent post entitled “AI Enhancing EI in War,” MAJ Vincent Dueñas addressed how AI can mitigate a human commander’s cognitive biases and enhance his/her (and their staff’s) decision-making to assist them in commanding, fighting, and winning on future battlefields. Humans are susceptible to cognitive biases and these biases sometimes result in catastrophic outcomes—particularly in the high stress environment of wartime decision-making.  AI offers the possibility of mitigating the susceptibility of negative outcomes in the commander’s decision-making process by enhancing the collective Emotional Intelligence (EI) of the commander and his/her staff.  For now, however, AI is too narrow to carry this out in someone’s home, let alone on the battlefield.

6.SS7 Cellular Network Flaw Nobody Wants To Fix Now Being Exploited To Drain Bank Accounts,” by Karl Bode, Techdirt.com, 11 February 2019.

Signaling System 7 (SS7) is a series of cellular telephone protocols first built in 1975 that allows for telephonic communication around the globe. Within this set of protocols is a massive security vulnerability that has been public knowledge for over a decade. The vulnerability allows a nefarious actor to, among other things, track user location, dodge encryption, and record conversations. What’s more, this can be done while looking like ordinary carrier chatter and, in some cases, can be used to gain access to bank accounts through 2-factor authentication and effectively drain them.

This is significant from a military perspective because, as highlighted within a recent blog post, we have already seen near-peer adversarial states execute attacks through cellphone activity, personal wearable device location data, and social media. These states attempt to degrade soldier morale by launching information operations campaigns targeted at soldier families or the soldiers themselves through text messages, social media, or cell phone calls. The SS7 vulnerability could make these campaigns more successful or easier to execute and allow them to penetrate farther into the personal lives of soldiers than ever before.

Lastly, this vulnerability highlights an enduring trend: legacy communications infrastructure still exists and is still heavily used by civilian and military alike. This infrastructure is old and vulnerable and was designed before cellphones were commonplace. Modernizing this infrastructure around the world would be costly and time consuming and there has been little movement on fixing the vulnerability itself. Despite this vulnerability being known since 2008, is this something that will affect operations going forward? With no intrusion signature, will the Army need to modify existing policy on personal electronic devices for Soldiers and their families?

If you read, watch, or listen to something this month that you think has the potential to inform or challenge our understanding of the Future OE, please forward it (along with a brief description of why its potential ramifications are noteworthy to the greater Mad Scientist Community of Action) to our attention at: usarmy.jble.tradoc.mbx.army-mad-scientist@mail.mil — we may select it for inclusion in our next edition of “The Queue”!

128. Disruption and the Future Operational Environment

Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce that Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is co-sponsoring the Mad Scientist Disruption and the Future Operational Environment Conference with the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin on 24-25 April 2019 in Austin, Texas.

Plan on joining us virtually as we explore the individual and convergent impacts of technological innovations on Multi-Domain Operations and the Future Operational Environment, from today through 2050.

Disruptors addressed include robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomy, the future of space, planetary habitability, and the legal and ethical dilemmas surrounding how they will impact the future of warfare, specifically in the land and space domains.

Acknowledged global experts presenting include renowned futurist Dr. James Canton, author and CEO and Chairman of the Institute for Global Futures; former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, Senior Counselor for Defense and Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security, Center for a New American Security (CNAS); Robonaut Julia Badger, Project Manager for the NASA’s Autonomous Spacecraft Management Projects; and former NASA spacecraft navigator Dr. Moriba K. Jah, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at UT Austin; as well as speakers from DARPA, Sandia National Labs, and Army senior leaders.

Get ready…

– Review the conference agenda’s list of presentations here.

– Read our following blog posts:  Making the Future More Personal: The Oft-Forgotten Human Driver in Future’s Analysis, An Appropriate Level of Trust…, War Laid Bare, and Star Wars 2050.

– Subscribe to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to stay abreast of this conference and all things Mad Scientist — go to the subscribe function found on the right hand side of this screen.

We look forward to your participation on-line in six weeks!

 

127. “Maddest” Guest Blogger!

[Editor’s Note: Since its inception in November 2017, the Mad Scientist Laboratory has enabled us to expand our reach and engage global innovators from across industry, academia, and the Government regarding emergent disruptive technologies and their individual and convergent impacts on the future of warfare. For perspective, our blog has accrued 106K views by over 57K visitors from around the world!

Our Mad Scientist Community of Action continues to grow — in no small part due to the many guest bloggers who have shared their provocative, insightful, and occasionally disturbing visions of the future. To date, 53% of the blog posts published have been submitted by guest bloggers! We challenge you all to contribute your ideas about warfare and the Future Operational Environment!

In particular, we would like to recognize proclaimed Mad Scientist Dr. Alexander Kott by re-posting our review of his paper, Ground Warfare in 2050: How It Might Look, original published by the US Army Research Laboratory in August 2018.  This paper provides a technological forecast of autonomous intelligent agents and robots and their potential for employment on future battlefields in the year 2050.

Our review of Dr. Kott’s paper generated a record number of visits and views during the past six month period. Consequently, we hereby declare Dr. Kott to be the Mad Scientist Laboratory’s “Maddest” Guest Blogger! for the first and second quarters of FY19. In recognition of this achievement, Dr. Kott will receive much coveted Mad Scientist swag!

Enjoy today’s post as we revisit Dr. Kott’s conclusions with links to our previously published posts supporting his findings.]

Ground Warfare in 2050:  How It Might Look

In his paper, Dr. Kott addresses two major trends (currently under way) that will continue to affect combat operations for the foreseeable future. They are:

The employment of small aerial drones for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) will continue, making concealment difficult and eliminating distance from opposing forces as a means of counter-detection. This will require the development and use of decoy capabilities (also intelligent robotic devices). This counter-reconnaissance fight will feature prominently on future battlefields between autonomous sensors and countermeasures – “a robot-on-robot affair.”

See our related discussions regarding Concealment in the Fundamental Questions Affecting Army Modernization post and Finders vs Hiders in our Timeless Competitions post.

The continued proliferation of intelligent munitions, operating at greater distances, collaborating in teams to seek out and destroy designated targets, and able to defeat armored and other hardened targets, as well as defiladed and entrenched targets.

See our descriptions of the future recon / strike complex in our Advanced Engagement Battlespace and the “Hyperactive Battlefield” post, and Robotics and Swarms / Semi Autonomous capabilities in our Potential Game Changers post.

These two trends will, in turn, drive the following forecasted developments:

Increasing reliance on unmanned systems, “with humans becoming a minority within the overall force, being further dispersed across the battlefield.”

See Mr. Jeff Becker’s post on The Multi-Domain “Dragoon” Squad: A Hyper-enabled Combat System, and Mr. Mike Matson’s Demons in the Tall Grass, both of which envision future tactical units employing greater numbers of autonomous combat systems; as well as Mr. Sam Bendett’s post on Russian Ground Battlefield Robots: A Candid Evaluation and Ways Forward, addressing the contemporary hurdles that one of our strategic competitors must address in operationalizing Unmanned Ground Vehicles.

Intelligent munitions will be neutralized “primarily by missiles and only secondarily by armor and entrenchments. Specialized autonomous protection vehicles will be required that will use their extensive load of antimissiles to defeat the incoming intelligent munitions.”

See our discussion of what warfare at machine-speed looks like in our Advanced Engagement Battlespace and the “Hyperactive Battlefield”.

Source: Fausto De Martini / Kill Command

Forces will exploit “very complex terrain, such as dense forest and urban environments” for cover and concealment, requiring the development of highly mobile “ground robots with legs and limbs,” able to negotiate this congested landscape.

 

See our Megacities: Future Challenges and Responses and Integrated Sensors: The Critical Element in Future Complex Environment Warfare posts that address future complex operational environments.

Source: www.defenceimages.mod.uk

The proliferation of autonomous combat systems on the battlefield will generate an additional required capability — “a significant number of specialized robotic vehicles that will serve as mobile power generation plants and charging stations.”

See our discussion of future Power capabilities on our Potential Game Changers handout.

“To gain protection from intelligent munitions, extended subterranean tunnels and facilities will become important. This in turn will necessitate the tunnel-digging robotic machines, suitably equipped for battlefield mobility.”

See our discussion of Multi-Domain Swarming in our Black Swans and Pink Flamingos post.

All of these autonomous, yet simultaneously integrated and networked battlefield systems will be vulnerable to Cyber-Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA). Consequently, the battle within the Cyber domain will “be fought largely by various autonomous cyber agents that will attack, defend, and manage the overall network of exceptional complexity and dynamics.”

See MAJ Chris Telley’s post addressing Artificial Intelligence (AI) as an Information Operations tool in his Influence at Machine Speed: The Coming of AI-Powered Propaganda.

The “high volume and velocity of information produced and demanded by the robot-intensive force” will require an increasingly autonomous Command and Control (C2) system, with humans increasingly being on, rather than in, the loop.

See Mr. Ian Sullivan’s discussion of AI vs. AI and how the decisive edge accrues to the combatant with more autonomous decision-action concurrency in his Lessons Learned in Assessing the Operational Environment post.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please watch Dr. Alexander Kott’s presentation, “The Network is the Robot,” from the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Autonomy: Visioning Multi-Domain Warfare in 2030-2050 Conference, co-sponsored by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), in Atlanta, Georgia, 7-8 March 2017.

… and crank up Mr. Roboto by Styx!

Dr. Alexander Kott serves as the ARL’s Chief Scientist. In this role he provides leadership in development of ARL technical strategy, maintaining technical quality of ARL research, and representing ARL to external technical community. He published over 80 technical papers and served as the initiator, co-author and primary editor of over ten books, including most recently Cyber Defense and Situational Awareness (2015) and Cyber Security of SCADA and other Industrial Control Systems (2016), and the forthcoming Cyber Resilience of Systems and Networks (2019).

 

126. Nowhere to Hide: Information Exploitation and Sanitization

[Editor’s Note:  In today’s post, Mad Scientist Laboratory explores how humankind’s recent exponential growth in interconnectivity will continue to affect warfare in the Future Operational Environment.  Using several contemporary use cases, we identify a number of vulnerabilities that have already been exploited by our adversaries.  The U.S. Army must learn how to sanitize its information signatures while simultaneously exploit those presented by our adversaries.  As previously stated on this site by COL Stefan J. Banach (USA-Ret.),  “Virtual Space is the decisive terrain and securing it is the decisive operation.]

Internet of Battle Things (IOBT) / Source: Alexander Kott, ARL

The timeless competition of finders vs. hiders is a key characteristic of the Future Operational Environment (FOE). Through the proliferation of sensors creating the Internet of Battlefield Things (IoBT), ubiquitous global communication, and pervasive personal electronic devices, the finders will be ascendant on the battlefield. They have more advantages and access than ever before – with the ability to make impactful non-kinetic action – and the hiders are creating bigger, enduring, and more conspicuous signatures. In the FOE, our ability to wade through the petabytes of raw sensor and communications data input to generate a Common Operating Picture and arrive at actionable courses of action will be significantly challenged. Will we be able to sanitize Blue Forces’ signatures to prevent our adversaries from detecting and exploiting similar information, while simultaneously seeing through Red Forces’ deception measures to strike decisively?

A recent example highlighting the inherent and unpredictable vulnerabilities presented by these emerging technologies is the incident involving personal fitness devices that track users via GPS. Many military personnel have used these devices to track personal performance while conducting physical fitness training.  The associated tracking information was transmitted back to fitness-tracking company Strava, where it was aggregated and then published as maps that were then made available to the public. Unfortunately, these maps contained articulate outlines of PT routes in and around military bases, the locations of which were not intended to be made public. This now publically available information inadvertently provided our adversaries with sensitive information that, in years past, would have required considerable time and other resources to acquire.

In response, the DoD issued a memorandum through Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan effectively banning the use of geolocation capabilities in operational areas. While there was swift policy resolution in this case, albeit after-the-fact, there are a number of continuing and emergent threats presented by the information age that still need to be addressed.

In the previous example, the culprit was a smart watch or fitness tracking device that is a companion piece to the smart phone. Removing or prohibiting these devices is less detrimental to the overall morale, spirit, and will power of our Soldiers than removing their cell phones — their primary means of voice, data, and social media connectivity — oftentimes their sole link with their family back home. Adversaries have already employed tactics designed to exploit vulnerabilities arising from Soldier cellphone use. In the Ukraine, a popular Russian tactic is to send spoofed text messages to Ukrainian soldiers informing them that their support battalion has retreated, their bank account has been exhausted, or that they are simply surrounded and have been abandoned. Taking it one step further, they have even sent false messages to the families of soldiers informing them that their loved one was killed in action.

Russian 9a52-4 MLRS conducting a fire mission / Source: The National Interest

This sets off a chain of events where the family member will immediately call or text the soldier, followed by another spoofed message to the original phone. With a high number of messages to enough targets, an artillery strike is called in on the area where an excess of cellphone usage has been detected.

Similarly, a NATO red team was able to easily infiltrate their own forces through information gathered on social media sites – amassing locations, dates, and other data – to influence their Soldiers’ behavior.  Facebook and Instagram allowed them to track Soldiers, determine exact locations of exercises, and identify all members of a certain unit.

Hamas employed a similar tactic against Israeli Defense Force soldiers, using fake accounts to pose as attractive women in honey trap operations to access sensitive operational information.

Each of these examples illustrate recent, low-cost, and effective means of deception. Device exploitation, the over-sharing of sensitive data, and the challenge in determining information credibility will only increase as connected devices continue to both proliferate and transition from being portable and wearable to embeddable and implantable. The following questions must be addressed by the U.S. Army:

– How can we sanitize ourselves to mitigate these and other vulnerabilities from adversely affecting us operationally on future battlefields?

– How do we ensure that the information we are receiving and processing is legitimate and that we are not being spoofed?

– How are we preparing to exploit similar vulnerabilities in our adversaries?

Fictitious 1st Army Group patch. Commanded by then LTG George S. Patton, to deceive the Germans prior to the invasion of France

– Is this even possible in a hyper-connected and complex battlefield or are we destined to be on the wrong side of some future Operation Fortitude, where effective military deception helped ensure the success GEN Eisenhower’s Great Crusade to liberate Europe from the Nazis in World War II?

One final thought — geolocation information and high resolution remote sensing capabilities, which only a short decade and a half ago were limited to a handful of national intelligence services, have entered into a new, democratized era.  As recently demonstrated in three warzone use casesanyone (including non-spacefaring nations, non-state actors, and super-empowered individuals) can now access current and past imagery to generate high resolution, three dimensional views for geolocation, analysis, and (unfortunately) exploitation.  The convergence of this capability with the proliferation of personalized information signatures truly means that there is “Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide.”  (Crank it up with Martha and the Vandellas!)

If you enjoyed this post, please also read the following blog posts addressing the weaponization of social media, the future of battlefield deception, and virtual warfare:

121. Emergent Global Trends Impacting on the Future Operational Environment

[Editor’s Note: Regular readers of the Mad Scientist Laboratory are familiar with a number of disruptive trends and their individual and convergent impacts on the Future Operational Environment (OE). In today’s post, we explore three recent publications to expand our understanding of these and additional emergent global trends.  We also solicit your input on any other trends that have the potential to transform the OE and change the character of future warfare.]

The U.S. Army finds itself at a historical inflection point, where disparate, yet related elements of the Operational Environment (OE) are converging, creating a situation where fast-moving trends across the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic (DIME) spheres are rapidly transforming the nature of all aspects of society and human life – including the character of warfare.” — The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare

Last year, the Mad Scientist Initiative published several products that envisioned these fast-moving trends and how they are transforming the Future OE. These products included our:

• Updated Potential Game Changers information sheet, identifying a host of innovative technologies with the potential to disrupt future warfare during The Era of Accelerated Human Progress (now through 2035) and The Era of Contested Equality (2035 through 2050).

 

 

 

Black Swans and Pink Flamingos blog post, addressing both Black Swan events (i.e., unknown, unknowns) which, though not likely, might have significant impacts on how we think about warfighting and security; and Pink Flamingos, which are the known, knowns that are often discussed, but ignored by Leaders trapped by organizational cultures and rigid bureaucratic decision-making structures.

With the advent of 2019, three new predictive publications have both confirmed and expanded the Mad Scientist Initiative’s understanding of emergent trends and technologies:

• Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report to Congressional Committees: National Security Long Range Emerging Threats Facing the United States As Identified by Federal Agencies, December 2018

• Deloitte Insights Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Predictions 2019, January 2019

• World Economic Forum (WEF) The Global Risks Report 2019, 14th Edition, January 2019

Commonalities:

These three publications collectively confirmed Mad Scientist’s thoughts regarding the disruptive potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Quantum Computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Big Data; and individually echoed our concerns regarding Cyber, Additive Manufacturing, Space and Counterspace, Natural Disasters, and the continuing threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction. That said, the real value of these (and other) predictions is in informing us about the trends we might have missed, and expanding our understanding of those that we were already tracking.

New Insights:

From the GAO Report we learned:

Megacorporations as adversaries. Our list of potential adversaries must expand to include “large companies that have the financial resources and a power base to exert influence on par with or exceeding non-state actors.” Think super-empowered individual(s) enhanced further by the wealth, reach, influence, and cover afforded by a transnational corporation.

The rich population is shrinking, the poor population is not. Working-age populations are shrinking in wealthy countries and in China and Russia, and are growing in developing, poorer countries…. [with] the potential to increase economic, employment, urbanization and welfare pressures, and spur migration.”

Climate change, environment, and health issues will demand attention. More extreme weather, water and soil stress, and food insecurity will disrupt societies. Sea-level rise, ocean acidification, glacial melt, and pollution will change living patterns. Tensions over climate change will grow.”

Internal and International Migration. Governments in megacities … may not have the capacity to provide adequate resources and infrastructure…. Mass migration events may occur and threaten regional stability, undermine governments, and strain U.S. military and civilian responses.”

Infectious Diseases. New and evolving diseases from the natural environment—exacerbated by changes in climate, the movement of people into cities, and global trade and travel—may become a
pandemic. Drug-resistant forms of diseases previously considered treatable could become widespread again…. Diminishing permafrost could expand habitats for pathogens that cause disease.”

From Deloitte Insights Predictions we learned:

Intuitive AI development services may not require specialized knowledge. “Baidu recently released an AI training platform called EZDL that requires no coding experience and works even with small data training sets…. Cloud providers have developed pre-built machine learning APIs [application-programming interfaces] for technologies such as natural language processing that customers can access instead of building their own.”

Cryptocurrency growth may have driven Chinese semiconductor innovation. Chinese chipmakers’ Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), initially designed to meet domestic bitmining demands, may also meet China’s growing demand for AI chipsets vice Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). “Not only could these activities spark more domestic innovation… China just might be positioned to have a larger impact on the next generation of cognitive technologies.”

Quantum-safe security was important yesterday. Malicious adversaries could store classically encrypted information today to decrypt in the future using a QC [Quantum Computer], in a gambit known as a ‘harvest-and-decrypt’ attack.”

From the WEF Report we learned:

This is an increasingly anxious, unhappy, and lonely world. Anger is increasing and empathy appears to be in short supply…. Depression and anxiety disorders increased [globally] between 1990 and 2013…. It is not difficult to imagine such emotional and psychological disruptions having serious diplomatic—and perhaps even military—consequences.”

The risk from biological pathogens is increasing. “Outbreaks since 2000 have been described as a ‘rollcall of near-miss catastrophes’” and they are on the rise. “Biological weapons still have attractions for malicious non-state actors…. it [is] difficult to reliably attribute a biological attack… the direct effects—fatalities and injuries—would be compounded by potentially grave societal and political disruption.”

Use of weather manipulation tools stokes geopolitical tensions. Could be used to disrupt … agriculture or military planning… if states decided unilaterally to use more radical geo-engineering technologies, it could trigger dramatic climatic disruptions.”

Food supply disruption emerges as a tool as geo-economic tensions intensify. Worsening trade wars might spill over into high-stakes threats to disrupt food or agricultural supplies…. Could lead to disruptions of domestic and cross-border flows of food. At the extreme, state or non-state actors could target the crops of an adversary state… with a clandestine biological attack.”

Taps run dry on Water Day Zero. “Population growth, migration, industrialization, climate change, drought, groundwater depletion, weak infrastructure, and poor urban planning” all stress megacities’ ability to meet burgeoning demands, further exacerbating existing urban / rural divides, and could potentially lead to conflicts over remaining supply sources.

What Are We Missing?

The aforementioned trends are by no means comprehensive. Mad Scientist invites our readers to assist us in identifying any other additional emergent global trends that will potentially transform the OE and change the character of future warfare. Please share them with us and our readers by scrolling down to the bottom of this post to the “Leave a Reply” section, entering them in the Comment Box with an accompanying rationale, and then selecting the “Post Comment” button. Thank you in advance for all of your submissions!

If you enjoyed reading these assessments about future trends, please also see the Statement for the Record:  Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, 29 January 2019, from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.